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This month is split between openings, and sub variations.
First, I'm going to bypass the positional lines of the Pirc/Modern, not having seen anything of major importance, and head for the Austrian attack against the Pirc and then against the Modern.

Download PGN of May '09 1 e4 ... games

Pirc Defence

Before doing so, I should mention, however, that 1 e4 d6 2 d4 Nf6 3 Nc3 g6 4 Bg5 notched up a 7-1-1 score with a 440 performance rating advantage for White. That's reflective of what's been going on every month. But this time we're dealing with mostly lower-rated players: one 2500+ as White, three 2300+, and about half averaging around 2000. I wouldn't bring this up if it weren't for White's incredible string of Bg5 victories this year.

In the notes to Shankland - Ehlvest, Foxwoods 2009, I've summarized a lot about what we've seen in the Austrian Pirc line that goes 4 f4 Bg7 5 Nf3 0-0 6 Bd3 Na6. We see again what has become the main line with ...Rb8:

As far as I can tell, White hasn't found anything of exceptional worth against this system, and the game itself is complex and dynamically balanced.

It's interesting that Hikaru Nakamura (2700) is taking up the wild and wooly Tiger's Modern! Both players follow a main, main line in Delchev - Nakamura, Mulhouse 2009; but they weren't necessarily aware of that.

I'll give some analysis and show Hikaru's other game as a note.

Caro-Kann Defence

We get a special contribution this month from Franck Steenbekkers, who has made numerous important theoretical discoveries over the years.

This position derives from two high-level games, Amonatov-Akesson, Vlissingen 2008 and its predecessor Smeets-Roos, Dresden 2007. Those games followed Jovanka Houska's variation with the main line 4...Bf5 and a later ...Qa5+, which we've followed very closely in this column, but Black deviated in a risky fashion. So far, he has held off White's sacrificial attack, but Franck shows that Black's position is ultimately untenable. Assuming that's true, he should improve early on or return to Houska's recommendation. The analysis is in Amonatov - Akesson, Vlissingen 2008.

I haven't touched upon the simple 2 d3/3Nd2/4g3 King's Indian Attack setup in a while. The one nice thing for White about this line is that it minimizes his chances for disadvantage, and ensures a game in which the players are on their own fairly early on (unlike the last game!). The disadvantage is that it's hard to gain more than equality. In Smirin - Stellwagen, Chalons en Champagne 2009, this basic position arose:

White goes for expansion on the queenside by b4 and Bb2, but Black has no particular difficulties until the middlegame. Towards the end, things become quite exciting.

I find Varga - Kallai, TCh-HUN Budapest 2008-9, to be absolutely eye-opening. Out of nowhere, in the 4...Nd7 main line, Black plays 5...Qa5+:

Amazingly, of the only six other games that I found with this move (out of many, many hundreds above master level), there wasn't a single win by White, even though two of the players were 2600+ and one above 2500! In view of Black's successes thus far, I've made a suggestion for the first player which may help his cause a little; regardless, it's shocking that a successful 5th move in this long-established variation has gone essentially unnoticed!

Alekhine's Defence

Becerra Rivero-Yermolinsky, Foxwoods 2009, features a rarely-used move in the 4 Nf3 Bg4 main line:

Here Black played 10...a6, which has a couple of points, but the immediate one is that now after ...Bxf3, White's Bxf3 will only threaten to win a pawn on b7, rather than trapping the rook on a8. Therefore Black will have time to capture on c4. I've included another game of Yermolinsky's in which he plays ...a6 a move earlier, and some of the corresponding theory. I have to admit that some of the earlier practice with this line is inexplicable to me, and I think that the burden is still upon Black to avoid disadvantage if White plays aggressively.

Ever since Magnus Carlsen began to use the variation with 4 Nf3 dxe5 5 Nxe5 c6, it has become easily the most popular way to play the Alekhine. I hope it doesn't remain so, because I think of the Alekhine as a romantic, counterattacking opening, and this variation is a super-safe, stodgy one.

Sharma - Miroshnichenko, Mumbai 2009, sees a familiar picture for both sides:

Black has chosen the ...g6 setup, rather than ...Nd7-f6, ...Bf5, and ...e6. A lot of draws seem to result from both ways of playing it, although objectively I think White should retain some advantage.

The Voronezh Variation continues to be popular. I seem to be heading towards the conclusion that this is an excellent practical weapon for White, as reflected in its terrific score; but that with precise defence, Black has no theoretical problems. At least that's been the case for well over a year of gathering games for this column. A fresh example is Gara - Grunberg, Hungarian TCh Mako 2008-9, in which Black was outplayed from one of our standard positions:

If you know some theory, this should be easy to play. Somehow Black's task in these positions, and in the Voronezh as a whole, must be more difficult than White's, or we wouldn't get such favourable results for the latter.

Till next month, John

Please post you queries on the 1 e4 ... Forum, or subscribers can write to me at if you have any questions or queries.